01. I am defending Mike Jones' Who is Mike Jones?, particularly the screwed and chopped version, over at What Was it Anyway? Check it out.
Snoop: Not exactly clear on the distinctions between country artist and Batman villain
02. I don't know how many of y'all actually listen to these podcasts I do (seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if I have absolutely no listeners whatsoever), but last time I played a Snoop Dogg country song called "My Medicine." I said that I thought it was pretty neat, but I couldn't see it being a success on country radio the way Nelly's pretty great hook up with Tim McGraw was.
Well, Snoop seems to disagree with me. He showed up at the CMAs and announced that "My Medicine" is his new single, and that he "wanted to get a lot of country artists to perform on it, because it was inspired by country music and by the late Johnny Cash." The version on the album, Ego Trippin' is with Everlast, who is one not-very country artist, so I don't know whether by "a lot of country artists" he means that he's recorded the song with some other dudes, or whether he's having the cream of Nashville appear in a video or what. If he does have some established country stars on the radio version, maybe the country music world will take to this. They've certainly welcomed sonic immigrants like Bon Jovi and The Eagles.
Lyay predicted last month that Snoop could find success on country radio with this song, saying, "I listen to these country stations every once in a while and I can tell you that My Medicine would fit perfectly into their format."
I don't particularly agree with that. To my ears, Everlast's faux-backwoods hoedown doesn't sound a lot like the slick southern rock influenced twang of modern country. But it doesn't sound a whole lot like rap, so maybe Snoop's celebrity will turn "My Medicine" into a leftfield hit. And if so, Lyay has one thing right: "this song has the potential to introduce Snoop Dogg to a new group of people. These people haven’t heard of iTunes and still buy “LP’s” on a regular basis."
If Snoop makes this work, he could count a lot of people who actually pay money for music as new fans. There aren't many artists who've been around as long as he has who can do that.
Icy on purpose
03. I don't have a problem with "Lollipop," the new-ish Lil' Wayne single. I don't mind that it has the same sugar-as-sex metaphor as 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" because I'm not dumb enough to think that two songs with the same lyrical theme must be equal in quality. And I don't mind the simplistic rapping because this isn't a rap song.
Lil' Wayne has shown a not uncommon interest in making music that isn't quite hip hop. I mentioned last year that his single "Shooter," based on a Robin Thicke song, didn't sound much like a rap song, even though Wayne was rapping. There's also his oft-threatened rock band, Bad Ass Grasshopper, which would probably be pretty great as long as Weezy keeps his guitar playing to Bono levels (i.e. ornamental). Wayne does sound good over guitars, and his voice is so distinctive that it adjusts to making non-rap tracks, like "Lollipop" with ease.
In "Lollipop," the effects-laden vocal emphasizes the melody of the track and de-emphasizes the flow. There are countless rock songs that feature singing that sounds more like rapping than this. The synths sounds and sparse beat sound more like Euro-pop than anything from the west side of the Atlantic. Sally Shapiro or Annie could sing over this no worries. And if you play it through any kind of decent system, that bass fucking knocks.
Unless you're the kind of dude that is only interested in hip hop (in which case, this is the internet: learn to like some new kinds of music!) or get hung up on the masculinity or lack thereof possessed by the rappers you listen to, I don't see why there isn't at least the possibility this track might have something to offer you.
On the latest The Drought is Over, mixtape, Weezy explores further this interest in music that isn't quite inside the hip hop tent, on the song "I Got My." He does actually rap on it, but the music starts off on a syncopated white funk shuffle and transforms into full-on new wave by the time the chorus hits. It's not as overtly left-field as "Lollipop" or "Shooter," but it is pretty great. And unlike the poor track record outside rap demonstrated by artists like Cee-Lo, Mos Def, Andre 3000 and etc. Wayne retains an interest in rapping, meaning his extra-genre experiments are fewer in number and less indulgent.
This hat better be because he's recording Montana
04. Speaking of Lil' Wayne and long-awaited albums like Tha Carter III, what's with everyone talking about how long overdue Tha Carter III is? Yeah, I've been waiting too, but as far as artists who need to release a fucking album already go, Sufjan Stevens has Weezy beat no worries.
There's all this fruitfly chatter about how Tha Carter III was never going to come out, but let's look at the dates. Tha Carter II, Wayne's last album proper, was released December 6, 2005. Sufjan Stevens released Come on Feel the Illinoise! five months earlier on July 5. And now Tha Carter III has a release date, and Stevens isn't even saying what state he's working on, or even if he's doing anything at all. And don't talk to me about The Avalance, the b-sides comp released July 11, 2006. That's like Lil' Wayne's mixtape material except there's about a tenth as much and the Stevens outtakes are about a tenth as good. And I don't want to hear about the re-release of Stevens' Christmas EPs on November 21, 2006 or that BQE material he performed three nights in Brooklyn last year. Hey, Sufjan. We don't all live in New York. Release it on an album if it's that great.
And like Lil' Wayne, Stevens has been spending his time appearing on other people's records, like The National's The Boxer and a bunch of Asthmatic Kitty releases. Only difference is that in a month or two I'll be listening to Tha Carter III, but I doubt I'll be listening to an album of songs about Utah, or whereever. Sufjan, step your game up.
"I'm Marrying a Member of Fall Out Boy and All I Got Was this Stupid Photo Taken of Me"
05. Ashlee Simpson has a new(ish) single out, "Little Miss Obsessive." It might be even better than "Outta My Head." And "Outta My Head" is pretty great. I'm rather getting excited about Bittersweet World.
Simpson has always been adept with songs about relationship anxiety, and the chorus on this track is one of her best. "I guess we're really over, so come over, I'm not over it," is clever and revealing and anxious all at once. She has a real knack for illuminating those awkward, contradictory parts of relationships that don't even make sense to yourself. "So come over" isn't a plea, but it's not a come-on either. It's Simpson trying, unsatisfactorily, to find certainty amidst a crumbling relationship.
Even more clever than that hook, though, are the lines after it: "Late night you make me feel like I'm desperate." It's a charge Simpson can only refute with a most desperate sounding, "I'm not desperate!" She sings it like she knows she's fooling herself. This is the sort of shit Pink tries and fails to do with that broad, unconvincing self-loathing she pulls out so often. Where Pink reduces these complex feelings to "leave me alone, I'm lonely," and sounds like she's throwing a tantrum doing so, Simpson colors the edges with adult emotions. The most tangible feeling in so many of her best songs is uncertainty. "Little Miss Obsessive" isn't actually about being obsessive; it's about the fear that she appears obsessive to others, and the worry that maybe she actually is.
Musically, its a good hybrid of the Timbaland dance-pop of "Outta My Head" and the pop rock of her previous material. It's very much like the songs on Autobiography, but the programmed beat and Tom Higgens backing vocals are arranged very much like a dance pop number. It will be interesting to see in which direction Bittersweet World ultimately heads. And incidentally, this ties with "Hey There Delilah" as Tom Higgens' best contribution to pop music. (Just Higgins' contribution, that is. "Little Miss Obsessive" is better than "Delilah.")
Incidentally, Jon Pareles' ham-fisted review of Bittersweet World demonstrates how badly the New York Times' music section is missing Kelefa Sanneh. I don't know if Sanneh would have given the record a good review or not, but he certainly would have been more thoughtful.
"Herman Munster motorcade"
06. This new R.E.M. record has quite a few fans, apparently. But whatever Rolling Stone says, it is not "one of the best records R.E.M. have ever made." It's not even particularly good.
One of the problems with this critical revision of R.E.M.'s post-Bill Berry career is that it ignores, for a start, that Up was a pretty good album. It wasn't perfect, and, like New Adventures in Hi-Fi it was far too long, but it had more than a few good songs, and it had R.E.M. exploring plenty of interesting sounds. R.E.M. has had problems over the past 12 years, but the back to basics approach of Accelerate doesn't address nearly enough of them. Besides, by suggesting that their past few records have not been fast or loud enough, the band is trying to address problems that never existed.
Nevertheless, the liveliness and concision of Accelerate makes for a few exciting moments, and the new approach is a decidedly good thing. R.E.M.'s last album, Around the Sun was terribly dull; it was the first album R.E.M. ever released that I didn't buy. I vaguely appreciated the first single, "Leaving New York," but that appreciation came with so many qualifications that it hardly excused the band from rapidly impending irrelevence.
Accelerate does, to some extent, rescue the band from irrelevence, but that's not really enough. Jacknife Lee produced the album, which isn't necessarily a problem. He did Bloc Party's A Weekend in the City, which was one of 2007's best albums, and even his less impressive outings, with U2, Snow Patrol and Editors shouldn't mean an R.E.M. collaboration would be more likely to yield poor results. In 1986, R.E.M. hooked up with Don Genham, a slick commercial producer best known for his work with John Mellencamp, for Lifes Rich Pageant, and the result was one of the band's best albums. He forced R.E.M.'s introspective writing into a bigger, bolder sonic environments, and the resulting songs were immediate and catchy but retained their depth.
The songs on Accelerate aren't like that. They are immediate, but they aren't particularly catchy, and it doesn't sound like they ever had any depth. And as satisfying as it would be to blame the clumsy hand of the producer, it's not Lee's fault. R.E.M. is to blame for this one.
All the Marshall stacks in the world can't save a band that has forgotten how to write songs. These tracks have melodies (well, the choruses do anyway) but none with the memorability and appeal of the songs the band seemed to write as a matter of course at its peak (Nothing compares to "Maps and Legends," "Fall on Me," or "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite," but nothing even comes close to regular album tracks like "Exhuming McCarthy," "Good Advices," or "Departure." Many of these songs are supposedly political, but they lack any sense of urgency. Compare this selection to the excoriating blast of "Ignoreland." Don't call it a comeback. No really: don't.
The same thing happened with U2's last album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, also produced by Lee. Reviewers got very excited, proclaimed the record a great success, and then, after the hubbub had died down, admitted that maybe fast, simple and loud isn't the same as exciting.
Accelerate is fast, simple, and loud, just like Atomic Bomb. And like Atomic Bomb, it's also ponderous, leaden and lacking in ideas. Anyone who thinks this compares at all to the Lifes Rich Pageant-era recordings the band is desperate to revisit needs to actually put Lifes Rich Pageant on and have a listen to the opening two tracks. Nothing on Accelerate has that forceful vitality, that clarion-call clarity that made "Begin the Begin" and "These Days" so utterly thrilling. These were tunes with the fierce urgency of now sewn into their fabric. The R.E.M. of now, on the other hand, is neither fierce nor urgent. It is loud.
And believe me, I'm not pleased to hear yet another middling album from R.E.M. I have loved this band since I was thirteen, and they're still the rock group I can best geek out over. I can list B-sides, arcane trivia, chart positions, and whatever with ease. But Accelerate, even if it does hint at a tiny spark of life that once seemed entirely extinguished, is only the same old aimlessness wandering in a new direction.
 First, those lyrics are terrible! Second, Stipe, have you forgotten that verses can have melody too? Third, it absolutely is not "easier to leave than to be left behind!"
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